LONDON (Reuters) – Britain needs a wider range of immigrants to tackle shortages of workers ranging from archaeologists and architects to vets and web developers, government advisors said on Wednesday, just days after figures showed immigration had fallen to a five-year low.
Britain is reviewing its immigration system as it prepares to leave the European Union, which allows almost unrestricted free movement of workers between its 28 member states.
More than 3 million foreigners have moved permanently to Britain since 2009, despite the government’s aim to reduce net migration to 100,000 a year, and this was a top worry for voters at the time of 2016’s referendum to leave the EU.
However, in its first full review of job shortages in five years, the government’s Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) said shortages of workers in Britain’s economy had increased since 2013, as unemployment had fallen to its lowest since 1975.
The body, made up mostly of academic labor market economists, recommended that jobs similar to those done by 9% of workers in Britain should be put on an immigration shortage list, up from less than 1% in 2013.
“The expansion comes mainly from the wider set of health and IT sector jobs included,” the report said.
The MAC’s recommendations are not binding, but the government has generally followed previous suggestions.
Inclusion on the ‘shortage occupation list’ would mean employers no longer needed to prove they were unable to hire a British worker to do the job, and shortage workers would have priority over some other immigrants if quotas applied.
Businesses welcomed the recommendation from the body, which has already urged the government to lift a cap on high-skilled immigrants, but had upset some firms by opposing a new category of post-Brexit visa for low-skilled EU workers.
“Our research shows that three-quarters of firms are currently unable to find the talent they need, and vacancies are being left unfilled,” the British Chambers of Commerce said.
However Migration Watch UK, a body that wants less immigration, called the new job shortage list “astonishing”.
“The MAC seems to have turned 180 degrees from its previous emphasis on encouraging employers to recruit domestically through improved wages, better conditions and boosted training,” Migration Watch’s vice-chairman, Alp Mehmet, said.
Stricter border controls were Britons’ top concern at the time of the 2016 referendum, but this has now fallen to third place, behind funding public healthcare and education, according to recent polling by market research company Kantar.
Nonetheless, some 42% of Britons still want to restrict EU citizens’ future rights to live in Britain after Brexit, while only 33% wanted to preserve them.
(Reporting by David Milliken; editing by Stephen Addison)